Monday, May 4, 2015

Ripoffs of the Wasteland: STRYKER (1983)

(Philippines - 1983)

Directed by Cirio H. Santiago. Written by Howard Cohen. Cast: Steve Sandor, Andria Savio, William Ostrander, Mike Lane, Ken Metcalfe, Julie Gray, Monique St. Pierre, Joe Zucchero, Jon Harris III. (R, 82 mins)

Though Italy was largely ground zero for the 1980s post-nuke ROAD WARRIOR ripoff, it should come as no surprise that Cirio H. Santiago, the undisputed king of Filipino exploitation, wasted no time in getting his own post-apocalyptic saga in theaters when he saw the craze gaining momentum. Santiago (1936-2008) schlepped his way around the Filipino movie industry from the mid-1950s on before finding his niche in drive-in trash after forming a partnership with Roger Corman in the early 1970s. Corman would co-produce and distribute Santiago's Manila-shot T&A actioners like FLY ME (1973) and COVER GIRL MODELS (1975) as well as 1974's immortal T.N.T. JACKSON ("She'll put you in traction!"). Santiago and Corman would part ways by the late '70s as Santiago had some other successes with EBONY, IVORY & JADE (1976), THE MUTHERS (1976), VAMPIRE HOOKERS (1978) and DEATH FORCE (1978). Santiago and Corman reunited for 1981's FIRECRACKER, a remake of T.N.T. JACKSON. By the mid-to-late 1980s, the prolific Santiago was on a roll, with Corman's Concorde Pictures releasing a slew of his post-nukes (1987's EQUALIZER 2000, 1988's THE SISTERHOOD, 1992's DUNE WARRIORS), horror (1987's DEMON OF PARADISE), vigilante exploitation (1985's NAKED VENGEANCE), cop movies (1986's SILK), RAMBO ripoffs (1986's THE DEVASTATOR), post-PLATOON Vietnam sagas (1987's EYE OF THE EAGLE, 1988's NAM ANGELS, 1989's better-than-expected EYE OF THE EAGLE III), and one that was a fusion of everything (1986's insane FUTURE HUNTERS). Santiago slowed down a little in the 1990s, but still had time to crank out several BLOODSPORT knockoffs like the 1993 duo of ANGELFIST (with Vidal Sassoon's karate champ daughter Cat) and LIVE BY THE FIST, and a few more 'Nam offerings that provided jobs for fading American tough guys, such as 1992's BEYOND THE CALL OF DUTY with Jan Michael Vincent, and 1993's KILL ZONE with David Carradine and Dallas Cowboys great Tony Dorsett. By the early 2000s, he was making jingoistic military actioners like 2003's WHEN EAGLES STRIKE, and producing a pair of 2006 films with Mark Dacascos: THE HUNT FOR EAGLE ONE (2006) and its sequel THE HUNT FOR EAGLE ONE: CRASH POINT (2006), which transplanted his Vietnam formula to the post-9/11 era.

Cirio H. Santiago (1936-2008)
Released in September 1983, STRYKER was Santiago's first post-nuke, and one of the last films distributed by the original incarnation of New World Pictures after Corman sold the company that same year. Santiago's style typically didn't concern much beyond getting the film in the can and shipped off to Corman, but with STRYKER, he seems to have taken some care as it demonstrates some of his most accomplished filmmaking. It's not just in the stunt work or the action sequences (Filipino writer/actor Joe Mari Avellana is credited as "associate director"), but Santiago also seems to have gotten access to a Steadicam for a few shots that really show off the barren, desolate look of the mines on the Filipino island of Marinduque (the site of terrible mining tragedy in 1996), which does a very effective job of standing in for a vast, post-nuke wasteland. As much of a shameless and aimless ROAD WARRIOR ripoff as it is, STRYKER stands as one of Santiago's best films, even though it could really use some Vic Diaz.

Even by the standards of the post-nuke ripoff, STRYKER's story is threadbare: years after the nuclear (or, as the opening narrator puts it, "nucular") holocaust, water is the scarcest commodity, and marauding bands of relatively good guys team up to take on the sadistic overlord Kardis (1950s pro wrestler turned B-movie actor/producer Mike Lane), who's bent on hoarding it for himself. A band of scantily-clad female badasses led by Delha (Andria Savio) are part of The Colony, where a natural spring has supplied them with water for years. They reach out to a compound run by Trun (Ken Metcalfe as Tom Atkins), figuring that an alliance between The Colony and Trun will force Kardis to realize he's outnumbered and negotiate a deal that finds them all sharing the spring. Of course, since Kardis is the villain in a post-nuke ripoff, there's no way he'll go along with this pie-in-the-sky bullshit, especially after he's revealed to be a thoroughly tone-deaf post-apocalyptic one-percenter who announces his plan to strictly ration the precious water "for those who contribute" while splashing his face after a refreshing, hot shave. Wandering in and out of the convoluted but somehow still empty story is Stryker (Steve Sandor), the requisite nomadic warrior in a souped-up muscle car. Stryker is Trun's younger brother but branched out on his own because that's just how he rolls. Stryker has a sidekick in Bandit (William Ostrander), who gets a love interest with one of the Colony ladies, but considering the movie is called STRYKER, Stryker doesn't figure much in the action until the climax, when he gets to face Kardis one-on-one and avenge his late wife, who was tortured and beheaded by Kardis years earlier.

Steve Sandor IS Stryker!
Santiago comes storming out of the gate with an opening scene that includes a disemboweling and several shotgun blasts to faces and heads. There's quite a bit of action, constant explosions, and dangerous stunts throughout (there's one impressive chase sequence where Ostrander clearly does his own stunt, falling from the top of a moving rig onto the truck passing by it, and it looks dangerous as hell), but the script by Howard Cohen (SATURDAY THE 14TH, DEATHSTALKER) has too many characters (there's also a group of robed, jabbering dwarves who get a lot of screen time) and almost treats its title hero as an afterthought. That's a shame, because Sandor is well-cast and plays the part with just the right tongue-in-cheek attitude. STRYKER was, for that time anyway, a rare big-screen lead for Sandor, who headlined a couple of late '60s biker movies but was mainly a jobbing journeyman making his living on TV guest spots. Santiago's film came in the midst of a brief renaissance for Sandor, who provided the voice for Darkwolf in Ralph Bakshi's FIRE AND ICE, which opened a week before STRYKER, and a month later, he had a co-starring role on the short-lived Cybill Shepherd/David Soul NBC series THE YELLOW ROSE. Sandor is perhaps best known to cult movie audiences of more refined taste than STRYKER for his role as the leader of a gang of sadistic bikers whose beating and humiliation of a fragile ex-astronaut (Scott Wilson) and his even more unstable shrink (Stacy Keach) kick off what's probably cinema's most harrowing bar fight in William Peter Blatty's THE NINTH CONFIGURATION (1980).

William Ostrander in his best-known role as bullying
 Buddy Repperton in John Carpenter's CHRISTINE 
A native of Euclid, OH outside of Cleveland, Ostrander also had a voice role in Bakshi's FIRE AND ICE and is best known to genre fans as Buddy Repperton in John Carpenter's CHRISTINE, released three months after STRYKER. As played by Ostrander, Repperton is one of the most memorable movie bullies of the 1980s, but even though the film was a hit and his performance is remembered by fans to this day, Ostrander never capitalized on it and it wasn't long before all of those roles started going to William Zabka (THE KARATE KID, BACK TO SCHOOL) instead. Ostrander plugged away for the rest of the '80s, but fame never materialized. He co-starred in the grim 1985 German-made women-in-prison drama RED HEAT, with Linda Blair and Sylvia Kristel and had a recurring role on KNOTS LANDING in 1986, but he only worked sporadically in the '90s and onward. He had a small role in David Lynch's MULHOLLAND DR. (2001), but he hasn't acted since an episode of ANGEL that same year.

Thai DVD art for WATER WARS
At the time of his death in 2008, Santiago was working on a sequel of sorts to STRYKER, which would be his first time behind the camera since 2005's futuristic kickboxing opus BLOODFIST 2050, an unusually long break for the director. An ill Santiago was battling lung cancer when he died five days into production on ROAD RAIDERS, which would eventually become WATER WARS. The film, starring Michael Madsen because of course it did, was shelved until 2011 when producer Corman brought in his veteran utility man Jim Wynorski to finish Santiago's final project. Wynorski shot new scenes and assembled what he could out of what Santiago managed to get done, and relied on copious amounts of stock footage from STRYKER and other Santiago post-nukes to fill in the gaps. All told, about 20-25 minutes of WATER WARS' 78-minute running time is stock footage from movies that were nearly 30 years old, featuring characters who have nothing to do with WATER WARS. The resulting patchwork, which has been charitably described as ranging from "amateurish" to "unwatchable," seems to have been shelved permanently by Corman as far as actual release is concerned, and has only been seen by a small number of masochists relying on the bootleg and torrent circuit. Its only official release thus far has been as a straight-to-DVD title in Thailand in 2014, the kind of under-the-radar rollout usually reserved for snuff films on the sex traveler and human trafficking circuit.

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